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October 12, 2004

What's a Primary For, Anyway?

All of the discussion about I-872, the Initiative to replace Washington's new "party" primary system with a "top two" primary system (the Farm Bureau provides a helpful backgrounder) misses an important point: namely the reason to have a primary election at all.

Proponents of I-872 claim that moving to a "modified blanket" system, where the top two primary vote getters advance to the general, "preserves independence" and "defends the people's right to choose their candidates" and is somehow "more democratic" because it "lets people vote for who they want to."

However, these arguments fail to acknowledge the difference between a primary election and a general election. The purpose of a general election is to allow voters to choose the best candidate for the job. That's why you can vote for whomever you want in the general election.

But the main purpose of a primary election is to allow the major political parties to select their strongest candidates to put forward in the upcoming general election. [Ed.: Primaries are also good times to try to sneak by ballot measures that nobody wants, counting on low turnout to carry the day, but that's another story.] It only makes sense to limit the selection of a party's candidate to the people who are willing to identify themselves with that party.

I liked our old blanket primary just fine, and I was disappointed when the Supreme Court invalidated it. It accomplished the "primary" purpose of a primary -- selecting the best candidate for each party -- in a very open way. (Ed.: Don't forget the fun of "strategic" primary voting! How much I loved voting for Ellen Craswell in the primary!)

But, I have to respect the courts. The blanket primary is unconstitutional. We need a new primary system. But I just don't get the level of hostility towards the party-centric Montana-style primary. It's not like you actually have to join a party, sign a loyalty oath or anything. Can Washington citizens really be that hung up on not identifying themselves with a political party? Or are we all completely addicted to the guilty pleasures of strategic primary voting? [Ed.: Ellen! Ellen!]

Washington, sometimes I just don't understand you.

Posted by Jon Stahl on October 12, 2004 at 08:32 PM in Ballot Initiatives, Candidate Races | Permalink

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